Supreme Court declines to review prayer case

January 18, 2012

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court declined Jan. 17 to
reconsider a lower court’s decision barring a North Carolina county from
invoking prayers in Jesus’ name at twice-a-month meetings of its main
governing body.

The court declined without comment to accept an appeal of Forsyth County, N.C., v. Joyner, et al,
leaving in place a July decision by the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of
Appeals that policies of the county commission violated the
Establishment Clause because the prayers were overwhelmingly sectarian.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty filed a brief
in the case arguing that while the Constitution permits the use of
“legislative prayer” to solemnize public gatherings, such prayers must
be non-sectarian and not be used to proselytize or favor one religion
over another.

The BJC brief reported that in an 18-month period
all but seven of 33 prayers at commission meetings contained at least
one reference to “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ,” “Savior” or
“Trinity” and none invoked a deity associated with a faith other than
Christianity.

Americans United for Separation of Church and
State, one of the groups sponsoring the lawsuit, said the high court was
right not to intervene in the case.

“When government meetings
are opened regularly with Christian prayer, it sends the unmistakable
message that non-Christians are second-class citizens in their own
community,” said AU executive director Barry Lynn. “All Americans ought
to feel welcome at governmental meetings. The Constitution clearly
forbids government to play favorites when it comes to religion.”

The Supreme Court also declined to review a case involving a Delaware
school board’s practice of opening meetings with prayer. In August the
3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the Indian River School
District’s prayer policy to be unconstitutional.

The
Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit rejected an argument that the prayers fit
the exception to the Establishment Clause recognized for the tradition
of legislative prayer. Because the school board’s purpose centered on
public education, the court said its prayers were more akin to
clergy-led prayers at graduation ceremonies, which are unconstitutional
because even though technically voluntary, a student might feel
compelled to attend.